Getting and Setting Field Values

Given an instance of a class, it is possible to use reflection to set the values of fields in that class. This is typically done only in special circumstances when setting the values in the usual way is not possible. Because such access usually violates the design intentions of the class, it should be used with the utmost discretion.

The Book class illustrates how to set the values for long, array, and enum field types. Methods for getting and setting other primitive types are described in Field.

import java.lang.reflect.Field;
import java.util.Arrays;
import static java.lang.System.out;

enum Tweedle { DEE, DUM }

public class Book {
    public long chapters = 0;
    public String[] characters = { "Alice", "White Rabbit" };
    public Tweedle twin = Tweedle.DEE;

    public static void main(String... args) {
	Book book = new Book();
	String fmt = "%6S:  %-12s = %s%n";

	try {
	    Class<?> c = book.getClass();

	    Field chap = c.getDeclaredField("chapters");
	    out.format(fmt, "before", "chapters", book.chapters);
  	    chap.setLong(book, 12);
	    out.format(fmt, "after", "chapters", chap.getLong(book));

	    Field chars = c.getDeclaredField("characters");
	    out.format(fmt, "before", "characters",
	    String[] newChars = { "Queen", "King" };
	    chars.set(book, newChars);
	    out.format(fmt, "after", "characters",

	    Field t = c.getDeclaredField("twin");
	    out.format(fmt, "before", "twin", book.twin);
	    t.set(book, Tweedle.DUM);
	    out.format(fmt, "after", "twin", t.get(book));

        // production code should handle these exceptions more gracefully
	} catch (NoSuchFieldException x) {
	} catch (IllegalAccessException x) {

This is the corresponding output:

$ java Book
BEFORE:  chapters     = 0
 AFTER:  chapters     = 12
BEFORE:  characters   = [Alice, White Rabbit]
 AFTER:  characters   = [Queen, King]
BEFORE:  twin         = DEE
 AFTER:  twin         = DUM


Setting a field's value via reflection has a certain amount of performance overhead because various operations must occur such as validating access permissions. From the runtime's point of view, the effects are the same, and the operation is as atomic as if the value was changed in the class code directly.

Use of reflection can cause some runtime optimizations to be lost. For example, the following code is highly likely be optimized by a Java virtual machine:

int x = 1;
x = 2;
x = 3;

Equivalent code using Field.set*() may not.